Direct-to-home television in India
Direct-to-Home (DTH) television is a method of receiving satellite television by means of signals transmitted from direct-broadcast satellites. The Government of India permitted the reception and distribution of satellite television signals in November 2000. The first DTH service in the country was launched by Dish TV on 2 October 2003. DD Free Dish, the first free DTH service in India, was launched by public broadcaster Prasar Bharati in December 2004.
India is the largest DTH market in the world by number of subscribers. As on 31 December 2017, there were 67.56 million active pay DTH subscribers in the country. These figures do not include subscribers of free DTH services. The market is serviced by 4 pay DTH providers and one free DTH provider.
DTH services were first proposed in India in 1996. The proposal was not approved to due to concerns over national security and negative cultural influence. In 1997, the Government of India banned DTH services when Rupert Murdoch-owned Indian Sky Broadcasting (ISkyB) was about to launch its DTH services in the country. After deliberations among groups of ministers, DTH services were permitted by the NDA government in November 2000. The group of ministers was headed by Home Minister L.K Advani and included Information & Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley, Information Technology Minister Pramod Mahajan, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, Defence Minister George Fernandes, Communications Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and Law Minister Ram Jethmalani. The ministers made four key recommendations to govern DTH services:
- No single entity, either private or state-owned, should be permitted a monopoly in DTH services.
- The vertical integration of DTH and cable television services should be monitored in order to prevent the formation of a monopoly in television distribution
- The vertical integration of DTH operators and television channels should be avoided in order to ensure fair competition among TV channels
The new policy announced in November 2000 required all DTH operators to set up earth stations in India within 12 months of receiving a license. DTH licenses were priced at $2.14 million with a validity of 10 years. The FDI limit in the DTH sector was capped at 49%, and the company operating the services was required to be headed by an Indian citizen.
The first DTH service was launched in India on 2 October 2003 by Dish TV. The company decided not to compete against entrenched cable operators in metros and urban areas, and instead focused on providing services to rural areas and regions not serviced by cable television. Jawahar Goel, who led the launch, recalled 10 years later, "We hardly had four transponders and could offer only 48 channels, compared to analog cable that was giving 60 and was much cheaper. And, STAR refused to give its channels. So, we decided to go slow and concentrate in cable-dry and cable-frustrated markets, rather than cable-rich markets and build the market step by step." Dish TV acquired 350,000 subscribers within 2 years of the launch.
Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati launched DD Direct Plus (now DD Free Dish) in December 2004. The service is free and offers only free-to-air channels. Tata Sky was incorporated in 2004 as joint venture between the Tata Group and the British Sky Broadcasting. Tata Sky launched DTH services in August 2006. Unlike Dish TV, Tata Sky focused on metros and large cities hoping to attract customers away from cable by offering better picture and audio quality and wider selection of channels.
Following bitter legal proceedings between STAR and Zee, in 2007, the two companies called a truce and began offering their channels on each other's services. This decision and Dish TV's acquisition of more transponders enabled them to offer 150 channels on their service, more than any other DTH service in India at the time.
Sun Direct and Airtel digital TV launched services in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Reliance Big TV (now Reliance Digital TV) was launched in August 2008. The service acquired 1 million subscribers within 90 days of launch, the fastest ramp-up ever achieved by any DTH operator in the world. Videocon d2h launched its services in June 2009.
The total number of DTH subscribers in India rose from 1.5 million in 2005 to 23 million in 2010. Sun Direct became the first DTH provider to offer high-definition (HD) channels in early 2010. Tata Sky began offering HD channels later that year. Other DTH providers subsequently began carrying HD channels.
The price of set top boxes (STB) in India has plummeted in the decade since DTH services were launched. A standard STB was priced at ₹3999 in 2003, but dropped to ₹500 by 2014. In the same year, a DVR box capable of recording television programmes was priced at ₹2500.
In September 2012, the Union Government raised the FDI cap in the DTH sector from 49% to 74%. The government permitted 100% FDI in the DTH industry in November 2015, with 49% through the automatic route and higher investments subject to government approval.
Videocon d2h began offering a preview of 4K Ultra HD content on its DTH service in July 2014, and launched India's first 4K Ultra HD channel on 26 January 2015. The channel is not dedicated to single genre and instead broadcasts video on demand (VOD), lifestyle and travel content, sports, infotainment, concerts and Hollywood films. The channel also telecasts 4K content created by international broadcasters. The first programs telecast on the channel were live broadcasts of select matches from the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup. Tata Sky also offered live broadcasts of select matches in 4K.
A la carte
On 3 September 2007, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection (Fourth Amendment) Regulation 2007, which went into law on December 1; the rules require all broadcasters to offer channels on an a la carte basis. The regulation states, "All broadcasters will compulsorily offer all their channels on a la carte basis to DTH operators. Additionally, they may also offer bouquets, but they will not compel any DTH operator to include the entire bouquet in any package being offered by DTH operators to their subscribers". Prior to the regulation, only customers in areas covered by the conditional access system (CAS), and cable systems providing the services, had the option of choosing to buy only the channels they were interested in. TRAI intervened after DTH operators complained that broadcasters were forcing them to carry channels that they did not want.
Several broadcasters, such as STAR India, Zee Turner, Set Discovery and Sun TV, challenged TRAI's order in the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). On 15 January 2008, TDSAT refused to grant a stay on the appeal challenging TRAI's directive; TDSAT overruled the broadcasters' objections. The agency later set aside TRAI's December 2007 tariff regime. TRAI challenged TDSAT's order in the Supreme Court, and stated in proceedings on 22 July 2010 that "in the analog, non-addressable environment, the authority is of the view that a la carte should not be made mandatory at the wholesale level as technological constraints in any case make it impossible for the benefits of a la carte provisioning to be passed on to subscribers".
TRAI ordered that pay television customers in India must be given a free choice of channels rather than be forced to choose package deals, enforcing a January 2011 deadline to implement the changes. The order stated, "Every service provider providing broadcasting services or cable services to its subscribers using an addressable system shall offer all pay channels to its subscribers on a la carte basis and shall specify the maximum retail price for each pay channel". Tata Sky, Airtel digital TV, Videocon d2h, and Reliance Digital TV launched A la carte options in January 2011.
List of Pay DTH Providers
|S. No.||Service Provider||Launch date||Subscribers
(in millions) December 2017
|1||DD Free Dish||December 2004||22 million||Prasar Bharati|
|Essel Group (55%)
Videocon Group (45%)
|3||Tata Sky||August 2006||14.3 million||Tata Sons (60%)|
21st Century Fox (30%)
Temasek Holdings (10%)
|4||Airtel digital TV||October 2008||12.5 million||Bharti Airtel Limited|
|5||Sun Direct||2007||6.2 million||Sun Network (80%)|
Astro Group (20%)
The Department of Space (DoS) requires all DTH operators in India to only use satellites commissioned by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). DTH operators may use capacity leased by ISRO from foreign satellites only if sufficient capacity is not available on ISRO satellites. The following 8 satellites are currently in use by Indian DTH service providers:
|Satellite||Owner||Launch date||Mission life||User(s)|
|ST 2||Singtel||15 years||Freeview|
|MEASAT 3||MEASAT Satellite Systems||15 years||Freeview|
|NSS6||SES S.A.||15 years||Freeview|
|Asiasat 5||AsiaSat||17 years||Freeview|
|Gsat 17||ISRO||15 years||Freeview|
All DTH services in India currently use the MPEG-4 standard of signal compression. MPEG-2 is still used by DishTV, TATA Sky, DD Free Dish. Upgradation is going on to shift from MPEG2 to MPEG4, but to shift completely from MPEG2 to MPEG4, the subscriber have to change his/her STB 1st because MPEG2 STB can not decode MPEG4 video signal. MPEG-2 permitted each transponder to carry approximately 20 SD channels (fewer, in case of HD channels), while MPEG-4 enables each transponder to carry approximately 50 SD channels (again, fewer in case of HD channels). The bandwidth required to carry a single HD channel is approximately equivalent to the bandwidth required to carry 4 SD channels.
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